Juan Rulfo’s “Remember” is an introspective tale set in a rural Mexican town. The story revolves around the figure of Urbano Gómez, a character whose life is remembered and recounted by a narrator who seems to know Urbano and his surroundings well. Through a series of memories and anecdotes, the narrator traces the trajectory of Urbano’s life, from his childhood to his adulthood, revealing the different aspects and circumstances that shape his existence in the village.
by Juan Rulfo
Remember Urbano Gómez, Don Urbano’s son, Dimas’s grandson, the one who directed pastorelas, the Christmas plays, and who died reciting the “cursed angel complaint” during the time of influence. It’s been years since then, maybe fifteen. But you must remember him. Remember we used to call him “El Abuelo,” Grandfather, because his other son, Fidencio Gómez, had two very playful daughters: one dark and very short, who’d been given the mean nickname of “La Arremangada,” Stuck Up, and the other one who was towering and who had light blue eyes and who people even said wasn’t his and about whom you can’t say much more than she suffered from hiccups. Remember the commotion that broke out when we were in Mass and at the exact moment of the Elevation she had a hiccup attack, which sounded as if she were laughing and crying at the same time, until they took her outside and they gave her a bit of sugar water and then she calmed down. She ended up marrying Lucio Chico, the owner of the mescal bar that used to belong to Librado, up the river, where the Teóduloses’ linseed mill is.
Remember, her mother was called “La Berenjena,” Eggplant, because she was always getting into situations and with each of these situations she ended up with another child. It is said she had a little money, but she used it up on burials, since all of her children died on her right after they were born and she always had alabanzas sung to them, taking them to the cemetery with music and choruses of choirboys that sang “hosannas” and “glorias” and that song that goes “Here I send Thee, Lord, another little angel.” She ended up poor from all that, because each funeral was expensive, because of the drinks she gave to those attending the wake. Only two survived, Urbano and Natalia, who were already born poor and whom she didn’t see grow up, because she died giving birth to her last child, getting along in years, close to fifty.
You must have known her, because she was quite a complainer, always getting into an argument with the women selling at the market in the plaza because they wanted to charge her too much for tomatoes, she would start to scream and would say they were stealing from her. Later on, when she was already poor, you would find her scrounging in the garbage, gathering together onion scraps, already stewed beans, and a few pieces of sugarcane “to sweeten her children’s mouths.” She had two, as I was telling you, the only ones who made it. Later on, they lost track of her.
Urbano Gómez was more or less our age, maybe a few months older, very good at playing hopscotch and at cheating. Remember he used to sell us carnations and we would buy them from him, when the easiest thing was to go cut them in the hills. He would sell us green mangoes he would steal from the mango tree on the school patio and oranges with chile he would buy at the gate for two cents and then sell to us for five. He raffled off all kinds of junk he would find in his pockets: agate marbles, tops and spinners, and even green beetles, the kind you tie a thread to one of its legs so it doesn’t fly too far.
He would traffic with everyone, remember.
He was Nachito Rivero’s brother-in-law, the guy who got feebleminded a few days after getting married and whose wife, Inés, to support herself, had to set up a tepache stand at the main road’s sentry post, while Nachito would spend his time playing songs that were always out of tune on a mandolin he borrowed from Don Refugio’s barbershop.
And we would go with Urbano to see his sister, to drink the tepache we always ended up owing her for and never paid back, because we never had any money. Later on he even lost all his friends, because everyone, when we’d see him, would turn tail and run so he couldn’t collect from us.
Maybe he turned bad then, or maybe he was that way from birth.
He was thrown out of school in the fifth grade, because they found him with his cousin La Arremangada playing husband-and-wife behind the washbasins, in a dry cistern. They yanked him by the ears through the main door while everyone laughed, making him walk through a row of boys and girls to embarrass him. And he walked through it, with his head held high, threatening everyone with his hand as if to say: “You’ll pay dearly for this.”
Then it was her turn, and she came out pouting, like her eyes were looking daggers at people, and when she reached the door she let out a sob, a screech you were hearing all afternoon as if it were the howl of a coyote.
Unless your memory is really faulty, you have to remember that.
People say his uncle Fidencio, the one with the mill, gave him such a beating it almost left him paralyzed, and that he was so mad he left town.
Truth is, we didn’t see him again until he showed up here having become a policeman. He was always in the main square, sitting on a bench with a rifle between his legs and looking at everyone very angrily. He didn’t speak to anyone. He didn’t say hello to anyone. And if anyone looked at him, he pretended not to notice as if he didn’t know the person.
That’s when he killed his brother-in-law, the one with the mandolin. It occurred to Nachito to go and serenade him, when it was already nighttime, a little after eight, when they were still ringing the bells for the souls in Purgatory. That’s when the screams were heard, and the people praying the rosary in church came running and saw them there: Nachito, legs up, defending himself with the mandolin and Urbano hitting him again and again with the butt of his Mauser, not hearing what people were shouting at him, rabid, like a dog from hell. Until some guy who wasn’t even from around here came out of the crowd and went and took the rifle from him and hit him on the back with it, bending him over onto the garden bench where he was laid out.
They let him spend the night there. He left at sunrise. People say he first went to the parish and even asked for the priest’s blessing, but he didn’t give it to him.
They arrested him on the road. He was limping, and when he sat down to rest, they came for him. He didn’t put up any struggle. People say he himself tied the noose around his own neck and he even chose the tree he liked the most for them to hang him from.
You must remember him, since we were classmates at school and you knew him just as much as I did.